Thursday, November 6, 2008

Traipsing Across the Piedmont (North Carolina, that is)

I have a real love/hate relationship with my job. Love: because I get to work on some of the most iconic and important architecture in the country and travel all over the continent, meeting new, inspiring and exciting people. Hate: for the same reasons, well not working on the iconic architecture of course, but certainly the travel. I've lived in DC for almost 3 years but my social life tends to be dinners, events, sports, parties in other cities since I'm so rarely at home. Of course I realize I plan my own travel schedule so it's really my own fault where I spend my weekends. I am hoping that the influx of Democrats and hope with Obama to DC will encourage me to put down more roots here. Although it may just not be in my make-up. One friend recently called me a gypsy, and others have called me a professional fidgeter. That may be closer. Enough whining for one posting (oh, isn't it sad, she gets to travel all over the country, see some of the best buildings in the world, stay at the coolest hotels, visit friends, boo hoo)...

Last week I was off to Winston-Salem to give my "save the world" speech to the University of North Carolina/Greensboro Department of Interior Architecture. A friend and colleague, John Larson, invited me. John is the Vice President of Restoration at Old Salem Museums & Gardens in Winston-Salem, and teaches at UNC. We have been serving together on the Montpelier Restoration Advisory Committee and he's been wanting me to come visit Old Salem since I met him. Now being the modernist I am, colonial architecture doesn't usually get me too excited, but I can respect and admire the beauty of any good design - be it a building or a community. The weather was beautiful during my 3 days there, so the red brick and lush foliage were welcoming, calming and inspiring. And surprisingly I discovered that there was more to Winston-Salem than Moravian heritage (which turns out to be far more interesting than I had thought it would be).

We drove to the top of Pilot Mountain (a wacky quartzite monadnock seemingly transported from the west to the middle of North Carolina) to get a good flavor of the lay of the land, and admire the changing colors. John showed me the rambling remains of the RJ Reynolds tobacco factory - just on the edge of downtown and looking for a new use; a restored Shell gas station that everyone loves including me; the requisite historic mansions now used as conference centers - GrayLyn and Reynolda; one of the oldest Nascar tracks (1920s) in the country built out of early reinforced concrete; the usual 1970s Brutalist government buildings in downtown Winston-Salem and a lovely wood frame Carpenter Gothic church outside of downtown that just finished a restoration. All my photos can be viewed as a photo album on my Facebook page.
Winston-Salem (hyphenated by the Post Office early last century for some crazy reason I didn't quite understand) is actually Salem (and Old Salem) and Winston. Downtown Winston has a cute main street, a few blocks long with the usual condos taking over a former department store, some hip restaurants, a Federal building and some tobacco and banking headquarter skyscrapers. Old Salem is a smaller version of a Colonial Williamsburg - a restored and sometime reconstructed town built by the Moravians who came here en masse in the early 1800s. But unlike CW it does have different layers of history, building styles and types - early timber framed houses, Colonial and federal era brick structures, and some later 19th century buildings including a hotel. There are apparently a lot of gardens also but I never quite had a chance to roam around a bit. I was staying in an 1833 guest house on the main street, but John and his colleagues had me going from dawn to midnight so I didn't ever have a chance to explore on my own. And that wasn't a bad thing! Everywhere I went was a delight. We even made it to the Obama Headquarters downtown where I got a huge sticker for my car!

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